I doubt Socrates envisioned late 20th Century toy soldiers when he remarked that "an unexamined life is not worth living" but his laconic statement still rings true despite the passing of the millenia. Inspiration, truth and wisdom are worthy goals for any individual (including classic Warhammer enthusiasts like me) and when some tiny mote of information skitters unexpectedly across the rotting edifice that is Facebook it is hard not to become inspired.
A few days past, Ross Leach shared the above image and wondered if there was any further information available about this rancid chap. If you didn't know already is is an unreleased Great Unclean One from the late 1980s and was reportedly sculpted by Nick Bibby just before he left Citadel Miniatures. It was based on the original concept art produced by the Grand Master of Chaos, Tony Ackland and was presumably designed alongside the other daemonic entities for The Lost and the Damned or even Slaves to Darkness.
By means of comparison, and as far as I am aware, there are no 'unreleased' prototype Greater Daemon models for the remaining chaos gods, though Marauder did produce a later Bloodthirster that never saw the light, it wasn't part of the Citadel range. Further research will reveal a couple of other models suffered from a similar fate around the same time; with a rather pathetic Beast of Nurgle being canned by Bryan Ansell for being totally underwhelming (ie crap). Thanks to the endeavours of Sodemons and Collecting Citadel Miniatures (both essential sites that many a would-be Oldhammerer should spend more time exploring) we know what this model looks like beyond its solitary 'Eavy Metal appearance, but even with a funky modern paint job this creature is lacklustre at best.
Despite resembling an unfortunate 'foot trodden' casualty of some long lost carpet based skirmish, this rejected rotter wasn't intended to go it alone. Just like Lassie the Wonder Dog, he had a handler though I doubt this co-conspiritor would have uttered the immortal words 'I think he/she wants us to follow him/her'. Certainly not if they wanted to get anywhere quickly! The handler is harder to find online, though as you can see both painted and unpainted versions exist out there (again thanks to Sodemons and CCM) and I have never seen one of sale on eBay. Though, not even GW legend Phil Lewis can bring out the joy in this sculpt, as the painted figure below illustrates.
This wasn't the only plaguebearer to flunk at muster, as the famous Combat Card example will attest when not frustrating completists and obsessives. Take a flick through the Monster deck published in the late 1980s and you will meet this chap painted in rather sickly glory by our old friend, Darren Matthews. The same figure also appeared in White Dwarf and is presented below alongside the unpainted version.
Before researching the models for this post, I always assumed that the unreleased plaguebearer was a single cast model similar in size and scope to the later Kev Adams examples. I wonder if the original idea was to have had different bodies and heads to aid variation, after all both the contemporary pink horrors and the bloodletter models were two piece creatures? This example is certainly a stronger candiate for release but for whatever reason never saw the light of day, mostly likely because of the better, single cast versions that hit the racks in 1989. These would have been much cheaper to produce I would imagine.
Thanks to the ever enigmatic fsfminiatures relentless dumping of obscure models on eBay over the last couple of years, we also know that the famous Great Unclean One unreleased model was also multi-part and similar to the miniatures that were eventually sold to the public, though as you can see, the arms were part of the torso section rather than individual pieces.
Returning to Socrates and his thoughts about examination of life, don't you find it rather intriguing that there are quite so many many jettisoned Nurgle models out there? I mean, there is a Greater Daemon, a beast (and his handler) and a plaguebearer all jostling for position on many a collector's list of wants - that is practically an entire pantheon! It is not hard to see Nicky Bibby's hand in the GUO, beast and the handler - though it is only fair to say that the genius we saw in the Great Spined Dragon is not on display here and it is tempting to hypothesise on the reasons why, esepcially considering Bibby parted company with GW around this time and the resulting years have muddied the waters with rumour. But this is just simple conjecture and I doubt very much we have a similar situation to the infamous 'Nagash's Head Incident' on our hands here, more likely a range that just didn't cut the mustard first time around.
The unusual nature of the models did spur an interesting discussion between several GW heavyweights (intellectually speaking, rather than in mass) which I have had the foresight to preserve here. Ross' question led Tony Ackland, Tony Hough, Mike Brunton and Andy Hoare to exchange some intriguing factoids which conform this hypothesis.
On the subject of the GUO, Mike Brunton assured Ross that he had an example in his own collection and that it 'weighed far too much to ever be put into production at a sensible price'. Perhaps giving us the true raison d'etre for this version of the daemon being sent to Coventry, rather than on aesthetics alone. This seems to be confirmed by Tony Ackland who took friendly exception to the term 'prototype' being used to describe the model. 'The thing is that the use of prototype figures for metal miniatures never really happened. Before a production figure is created there may ben concepts provided, the sculptor might produce sketches, or it may be sculpted off the cuff. I can think of no time a figure was created to be used as a guide to a finished figure. It would more than likely have been a figure that was rejected after seeing what the casting looked like.'
So these are not 'prototypes' in the purest terms, just first attempts that for whatever reason didn't make it to market. Models like these need to be be seen in that context when research is taking place, as they are in a separate category to say, models cleared for release that just slipped from the schedule and those who just saw limited release. They are enigmas. Mysteries. What ifs... Any tantilising alternative to a well loved collectible will always elicit speculation and fascination amongst enthusiasts. After all, a life left unexamined is not worth living, even if that 'life' is that of an unreleased 1980s white metal miniature.
Those of you agonising over not owning one of these rarities may need to wipe away those tears of frustration as we draw this post to a close. Tony Hough, prolific GW artist and one-time keytimer, quipped; 'Don't hate me! I was sent one (unreleased GUO) to use as reference and I never assembled it... In fact, I used one half of it as an inkpot for years when I was illustrating GW stuff and then lost it!'